Bill Maxwell

BillMaxwellHowIt seems my fascination with the physical earth began at a very early age. I was born and lived in Northeastern Ohio until I was eleven years old. Then, as now, Northeastern Ohio is a wonderful mix of hardwood forests, lakes and farms. The land exhibits considerable relief relating to multiple episodes of continental glaciation.

Northeastern Ohio is referred to as the Western Reserve so named during the colonial period for its location immediately west of the Appalachian Mountains. The area was explored and settled primarily by immigrants from New England in search of more fertile farmlands west of the Allegheny Mountains in the early 1800’s. The Maxwell family home was located on a hillside about five miles south of Lake Erie. The hill was actually an ancestral headland formed during an earlier high stand of Lake Erie.

The winters in Northeastern Ohio are long and lake effect snows considerable. However, the long winters made the arrival of spring all the more joyous and beautiful. With the spring thaw, the fields to the north and west of our home would spring to life again. Even more amazing than the springtime vegetation that emerged from the freshly thawed fields was the vast array of crystalline pebbles, cobbles and boulders that magically surfaced. These rocks were different and much more interesting than the layered rocks (sandstones and shales) we typically found along the creeks and riverbanks around our home.

My father was an avid walker and amateur naturalist probably owing to his Scottish ancestry. As the oldest of four children, my father usually invited me to join him for hikes in the nearby forest or for walks along the shore of Lake Erie. These frequent treks inevitably led to encounters with unusual land features that prompted questions and explanations. As is usually the case, seeing a natural wonder is exciting but when one receives an explanation as to its origin, the result can be awe inspiring. That was the case for me as my father explained that several thousand years ago Northeastern Ohio had been covered by a mile of ice. He explained that the crystaline rocks that appeared each spring in the farmer’s fields around our home were transported by these ice sheets from Canada thousands of years ago. He also explained that Lake Erie was formed by the melting of these massive ice sheets and that several thousand years ago the hill by our home was once a bluff overlooking Lake Erie.

In the winter of 1957, our family moved to the east coast of Florida. 1957 was the start of the United States’ effort to place a satellite in low earth orbit. My father accepted an offer of employment to work for the Air Force at Cape Canaveral, Florida. How exciting! Our new home in Melbourne, Florida was about seven miles from the Atlantic Ocean and about 20 miles south of Cape Canaveral. Coastal Florida is very flat and heavily vegetated due to its warm and wet subtropical climate. Over several decades (20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s) the state of Florida dug numerous canals to help with flood control and to facilitate drainage of the coastal lowlands. Along the banks of these canals I noted that the soil looked like beach sand, and it contained a great abundance of sea shells. This seemed most peculiar since we were several miles from the ocean and at an elevation of 10-20′ above sea level. Was it possible that the area around our home was once covered by the Atlantic Ocean? How could this possibly happen? To a child nothing seems more permanent than the land upon which you live.

Soon after moving to Florida, I joined the Boy Scouts. My Scoutmaster, C.O. Sims, was a wonderful person – a real renaissance man. He was an electrical engineer of German ancestry, but his true passion was teaching young people to appreciate and understand the natural world. Mr. Sims provided my first formal introduction to geology as well as photography. As my early interest in geology matured, he gave me a copy of Dana’s Manual of Mineralogy (12th edition dated 1900) and Dunbar’s Text on Historical Geology (printed in 1949). By age thirteen, I was collecting and purchasing rocks and minerals and reading anything that I could get my hands on relating to the earth sciences. In junior high school I entered our school’s science fair and placed or won in 7th, 8th and 9th grades. By now I was hooked. I knew by the age of fourteen I was going to become a geologist. In the Fall of 1964, I entered Florida State University as a freshman with Geology as my declared major. In the spring of 1971 I completed the requirements for a Master of Science in Geology and Geochemistry and headed west with my wife, Marybeth, to begin a career in petroleum exploration with Standard of California (Chevron). In the early years my expectation was that I would return to Academia; however, the exploration business proved to be far too interesting and exciting to leave.

Bill Maxwell